East meets West

This piece was sent in by aspiring journalist Maia Flora. She tackles a really interesting subject, that of relationships between mixed race couples. In our discussion for this piece, Maia informed me that as a young Indian female in the present world, it’s tricky to find the balance between tradition and modernity. The behind-the-scenes family dynamics can be a struggle. I know this myself from the stories my parents have told me, my father being a white man and my mother an Indian woman. A great piece from Maia on a topic not often discussed.

I’m not your typical Indian girl (whatever that is). I do most things your average university student would do – drink, get tattoos, go abroad with their friends; but dating on the other hand has been a completely different story. To make it even harder, I’m dating a white boy.

Don’t get me wrong, my parents are very open and understanding (clearly, otherwise I wouldn’t have a Power Puff Girl tattooed on my leg and face no repercussions for it), but it’s the community that we’re part of. A community that holds many standards and traditions which my parents have protected my siblings and I from. They found a happy balance for us between tradition and the modern world our generation is growing up in.

The Indian community is very big in Leeds but somehow everyone knows everyone. If you walk down the street holding hands with a boy, it will get reported to the auntie brigade and it’ll be plastered onto every Whatsapp group chat. If you post something on social media with the elbow of your partner in the corner, that elbow will be traced back and they’ll end up knowing more about your partner than you ever knew. I’m exaggerating of course (or am I?).

Growing up, I saw what not to do, key emphasis on saw. There are these unwritten rules. I was never told; it was more like examples of other people’s mistakes that I’d seen eventually explode into turmoil. Don’t try and hide your relationship, don’t be openly affectionate, don’t sneak anyone into your room, definitely no one of the opposite sex in your room, absolutely no one nightstands, and preferably date someone from your same background.

I’m lucky to have those parents that are understanding, only if you’re truthful from the get-go, so I did just that. After the first date I told my Mum everything as soon as I walked through the door, as if I was confessing to some sort of crime. She added to my excitement and she told me to go for it.  She also told me to remember the community that we’re a part of. She told me that she didn’t want random family members or outside influences from the community to get involved in our relationship, and that she always wanted to know what was going on, so somebody didn’t try to catch her out. That’s the thing with the Indian community, from the outset it seems like one happy family but when you look in deeper, everyone’s in it for themselves and wants their children and their grandchildren to do better than yours, even if that means tearing your children down.

This meant no social media posts, being cautious of where we went around town, being careful of who we told about our relationship. Already a couple months in, and there were do’s and don’ts. It made it hard for us as a couple of our generation, that just wanted to change their Facebook statuses to ‘in a relationship’ or share a couple photo on Instagram, basic things that most couples do without thinking twice. This was initially hard to explain to someone who was so far outside from my community. He didn’t fully understand why we had to be this way when I didn’t care personally.

There were many discussions about what we could and couldn’t do, a lot of repeat conversations but also a lot of learning about both sides. There was the fun learning, such as Punjabi words and different foods we eat, but then there was also uncomfortable topics like pretending we’re practically strangers in front of family members, so we didn’t seem ‘too intimate’. As we progressed up until now, we still have conversations about things that can change and things that can’t.  

When my parents first met my partner; which took a lot of persuading beforehand, it was 3 months into our relationship. They slowly warmed up to him and now, a year down the line, my partner and my Dad play golf regularly together and he can now stay over, of course downstairs on the sofa, completely separate rooms, completely separate floors. He’s allowed in my room, with the door open. He sits and jokes with all of us downstairs as a family, but must still call my Dad ‘Sir’ or ‘Mr Flora’, nothing more and nothing less.  

On the other side, when I met my partners Dad, it was quick and simple. I was invited round for tea only a month after we started dating. I call him by his first name, we laugh and joke together, and I can come and go as I please to their home. I think I was so nervous beforehand because I only saw what it was like through the eyes of my upbringing, I didn’t know it could be so simple and straight forward as sharing a cider with your partners Dad.

Looking back across our first year together, I have two caps on, one being the modern society cap, believing we should do as we please as a young couple. That it’s good we post pictures of our relationship together because we’re happy and want to show those that love us that we are. That we should go on trips away together because we’re making new memories and learning more about each other and how we work as a couple.

However, the other cap is the cultural and traditional cap that tells me I’m lucky as an Indian girl to even have the choices I have, to have the freedom in situations that I have. I should be grateful that I can even talk openly about my white boyfriend to my parents. That I can even have a white boyfriend or even have a boyfriend at all for that matter! These caps will always conflict with each other and they will throughout time, but the levels will constantly keep changing of which overshadows the other the most (realistically, my Dad’s disapproving, Indian frown will always have the upper hand). At the end of it all, this brown girl just wants to be with this white boy, no matter what either sides say.

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